Earthquake kills 23,000 people. Twister splinters an entire town. Fires blaze through thousands of acres of forest. Flash flood drowns a community. Record heat wave leaves crops barren.
This is the world we live in. Every day there is threat of some devastation that slices through the illusion of certainty we have grown so accustomed to, reminding us how fragile life is.
And with this dawning of fragility comes a surge within me to sit and breathe in the depth of life I witness every moment of every day trembling inside my heart. A hurricane of fear, a tsunami of grief, a volcanic eruption of passion for a life that I must let go of, and detach from while simultaneously living it with all my might.
The inclination to hold on tightly to what inevitably slips right through my fingers strikes a lightning bolt through the center of my humanity, a thunderous roar echoing deep in the chambers of my love born from both sides of light and dark.
Accept loss forever, says Jack Kerouac.
A halting screech of resistance screams inside of me.
And yet, it’s true. Loss is inevitable. To be human is to experience loss. There is a deep calling to accept this. To live full and fearless, I must accept this. There is an invitation to cultivate a depth of being that breathes awareness into every given moment. To be authentic, to love strong, to live a life that has some level of impact and purpose, to be inspired, to live courageously, to make the ordinary, extraordinary.
What happens “over there” is not “over there” anymore. It ripples out and affects us all.
It’s not, “Oh my God, did you hear what happened in Japan?” It’s, “Oh my God, look what is happening to us” — as a species, as a whole, as one connected to another and to everything.
There is no separation.
The woman who lost her son to the recklessness of war is me. The man who lost his family in the flood is me. The earthquake that killed 23,000 people is ME — my community, my humanity, my family. It is not THEM anymore, and it never was.
What is happening is happening to all of us. The poverty, the disease, the natural disasters wiping out thousands, all are personal to me. It is my self, my child, my lover, my sister, my best friend. It is the pulse of the main vein in a body that leads to the heart of everything. And it is alive in me.
Demanding me to wake up and breathe like it’s the last breath, dance as though it’s the last song, make love like the earth is splitting open to swallow everything we know to be true.
Last month I was caregiving on a hospice team. An 80-year-old man breathing his last breath. I held his hand as he struggled to let go of his life. I leaned in close, whispered in his ear, “You can let go. You are safe, you are loved, you are free.”
Within a few minutes, his eyes popped open, he looked at me, took one long deep inhalation as one single tear rolled down his weathered face, closed his eyes, and left the body that had been his companion for 80 years.
When I returned home, I received a call from a friend of mine. He was mesmerized by my story and asked me, Leslie, did you see angels around him? Did you feel them? What did they look like?
My answer to him was:
Maybe it’s not about seeing angels, feeling them or sensing them. Maybe, it’s about BEING the angel. And knowing there is no separation — not between me and this man who so bravely took his last breath in front of me, and not between me and the angels that were there to guide him safely home. With life so tenuous, so fragile, so fleeting, the invitation is to become an angel in human form and somehow, amidst it all, ease this very human journey with waterfalls of love.
And by accepting loss forever.
Leslie Caplan is writer and artist living in Ashland, OR. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org